This particular Christmas story began in 1966 as a project of Annie Boyd Parker Weaver, wife of founding president Dr. William K. Weaver Jr. The university, then called Mobile College, had been open only three years, and Mrs. Weaver felt something was needed to bring the young campus together. In the summer of 1966, while attending the annual national meeting of the Council for the Advancement of Small Colleges in Rochester, N.Y., Mrs. Weaver, Mrs. E. M. Keebler (wife of Dean Keebler), and Mrs. John H. Thomas (wife of Dr. Thomas, professor of religion) took their children on a picnic. In conversation that day, the idea of having an old-fashioned Christmas Dinner for faculty, administrative staff, and their spouses in the president’s home was born.
Shortly thereafter, Dr. and Mrs. Weaver conceived the idea of The Remembrance Tree, which would be decorated with ornaments placed there by members of the college faculty and administrative staff. The ornaments could be handmade or purchased. Additional ornaments denoting events in the lives of faculty and staff such as the birth of a child, the completion of a degree, an honor bestowed, a special achievement, etc. could be added to the tree at any time.
Many of the original ornaments and those added since represent something special about the faculty or staff member who donated it, or something meaningful to them about the university, like a piece of wood from the organ that once sat in Weaver Auditorium. When Dr. Weaver retired in 1984, the tradition ended and the ornaments were packed away.
The Remembrance Tree tradition was revived in 1989 by Dr. Audrey Eubanks, then vice president for Academic Affairs, with an annual Christmas reception that was held for the next 10 years. In 1999, Dr. Mark Foley, the third president of University of Mobile, and his wife Marilyn hosted a Christmas dinner for the faculty and staff around The Remembrance Tree in the lobby of Weaver Hall.
University of Mobile’s fourth president, Dr. Timothy L. Smith, and his wife, Penney, continued the tradition by adding ornaments in 2016, their first Christmas as members of the university family. In keeping with the idea of giving ornaments that have meaning to the giver, Dr. Smith’s reindeer ornament wears a bow tie, which is the new president’s trademark attire.
The Smiths started a new tradition in 2016, inviting faculty and staff to a Christmas tree decorating party. New faculty and staff were invited to add their ornaments to the tree, and other faculty and staff were invited to replace broken ornaments or add new ones.
More than 350 unique ornaments decorate the tree. Among them is a 2016 University of Mobile ornament given to faculty and staff at the annual Christmas luncheon. The keepsake ornament bears the new University of Mobile seal.
Throughout the Christmas season, The Remembrance Tree is a visible reminder that each person on the faculty and staff of University of Mobile is the imago Dei – created in the image of God, created uniquely to fulfill his or her purpose.
The individual ornaments placed on The Remembrance Tree symbolize the individual beauty of each person created by God. When these ornaments are gathered together on a simple tree, the result is a work of beauty and a reminder of the impact that can be made when God’s people join together for a common purpose: Higher Education for a Higher Purpose.